August Farewell 2022

It’s been almost two months since my last post, and perhaps this will be my last. It’s too soon to tell. I still have to finalize part one (11 chapters), with 3 more parts to follow (51 chapters in all). I feel a sense of urgency to finish. (I even had a dream about a future where a group of people were sitting around a campfire, their main source of light, reading a battered copy of my book. They were looking for ideas about how to rebuild a sense of community. Yeah, sure, I thought when I woke. It made me laugh…)

The world has changed in ways I could never have imagined in the eight and a half years I’ve been blogging. There are still moments of peace and beauty, kindness, and everyday acts of heroism but they’ve not been enough to stem the tide of cruelty, stupidity, and unreason that now dominate almost every social institution.

That’s why I have decided to finally retire from teaching. There’s no longer any wiggle room for me to challenge the oppressive status quo in dumbed-down standardized curricula. Academic institutions have increasingly become solely concerned with their survival, competing to maximize the number of students they can attract while cutting faculty and sacrificing the quality of the education they provide. It’s especially tragic when education fails to take a stand as libraries and school boards are under attack to make sure future generations have no opportunities to learn to think critically, feed their curiosity to learn more, or express their joy and wonder through creative arts.

Now, I prefer to garden,

A gift from squirrel gardeners

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Potentilla, cone flowers (Echinacea), and nine bark in bloom

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Carrots, tomatoes, and chard nearing harvest

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to spend time with family,

My Nephew and his twin sons (3 ½), my granddaughter, and daughter

at the Park Point Beach on Lake Superior

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Meeting my grandnephews for the first time as their dad introduces us.

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My nephew and his sons at lunch – Sam (blue shirt) and Ben (black shirt)

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A family gathering – my granddaughter, grandson, daughter, nephew, grandnephews, and me

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to dog sit,

Sweet Cinnamon spent a few days with me while my daughter was traveling

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and to work with two dear friends who are helping as readers for the book manuscript I’m editing, We Remember: Stories about Ojibwe Child Welfare. It’s based on a critical ethnographic study I conducted two decades ago. I had to put it aside many times for too many years in order to teach.

In the process of answering my readers’ questions about things I assumed everyone knows, I find myself having to explore issues more deeply and completely so I can explain them with greater clarity. The process has brought us closer, even though one friend lives in Oregon and the other in Alabama. They both feel the manuscript is compelling and still relevant today, a fact I find depressing. Yet that makes it all the more important for me to finish and share it while I can.

In the process of preparing the manuscript for possible publication, I realized that some of my older blog posts need to be kept private. They’re posts about the study findings. Few people have viewed those posts in recent years anyway. It will take some tedious time to change them from public to private, though. There are at least 30 of them!

I am deeply grateful for the blogging friends I had when the essays were posted. They provided incredibly helpful and supportive feedback, much like my manuscript readers now.

I am also grateful for the newer blogging friends who continue to share inspiration, knowledge, beauty, and kindness. I will try to keep up with your blogs even though I doubt I will post much in the future.

An aside, I’ve had to block comments on all posts older than 45 days because of a barrage of spammers this year – more than 100 a day on some days. The only open space left for comments on my blog will be this post for a short while and on the contact page. Some days, only one spammer finds it…

I can’t make any promises about my ability to respond to comments in a timely fashion, though. I need to stay in my own culture and “language” to be able to keep editing.

Sending my gratitude and best wishes to all. 💜

The Art of Letting Go

May 7, 2022

Up before dawn to get ready for class. I planned on reading the final two student papers before class after I took a shower. But I knew that what I had prepared for the two classes today wouldn’t do. This has been an extraordinarily difficult semester for students. Yet the students kept trying to do their best. I wondered how I could honor their hard work and as I showered, words flowed through me – “the art of letting go.”

Even though we are scheduled to see each other again in the fall, one never knows what surprises life may bring. Each moment together could be our last.

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May 2 2022

A Courageous Red Poll – May 2, 2022

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May 2 2022 2

A Curious Squirrel – May 2, 2022

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The Art of Letting Go

We spend a lifetime learning the art of letting go

when we begin there’s so much we don’t know

about the highs and lows, the good times and bad

perhaps in the end grateful for all the chances we’ve had

to know both joy and sorrow, failure and success

to love and lose, to laugh and cry, to blame and bless

finally learning we have only this moment today

to create memories that will help us keep finding our way

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I know that words cannot express the gifts that come from students. Even though I have read the articles I’ve assigned many times, the papers students wrote during the past semester pointed out things I had never noticed or considered. Each point of view was unique, each focused on different issues, and each was written in a different voice. The lesson of research, really – to explore and consider as many vantage points as possible when trying to understand an issue.

the art of letting go

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But the most profound gift was their inspiration. No matter how overburdened their lives were, they showed up and tried – tenacious, resilient, and willing to consider uncomfortable truths. They wanted to learn all they could because they believe it’s possible to help make the world a healthier, kinder, more peaceful place for all. It’s not just wars that have been an enduring presence throughout history, though. There have also been never-ending acts of creativity, kindness, and heroism, many of which are not mentioned in history books, or these days, by mainstream media. We cover that in classes, too.

Each group of students inspires me to keep learning and trying new things. Who could ask for a better job even though it also means learning the art of letting go?

Going in Circles…

The night after participating in a virtual political convention to choose candidates to endorse for state races, I awoke from a dream. The details remain a bit foggy, but I remember being in a car that I couldn’t steer. It was racing in never-ending circles, seemingly controlled by remote external forces. There was no clear purpose or destination in sight. Just unending circular movement in a dark, barren, asphalt-covered landscape.

It reminded me of the convention and my recent, though distant, involvement in the political process. The convention itself felt unwelcoming, focused on rules and the need to appear inclusive by making meaningful dialogue impossible. In fairness, though, I doubt there’s a way to effectively hold a Zoom meeting with 300-plus people, some of whom were seasoned political operatives with clear agendas, and many of whom were strangers and newcomers. All had different perspectives without any opportunities to connect. We were all just tiny faces and names on a screen. Those who jumped through the hoops to speak rarely seemed to care about focusing on things that would matter to the group or the state overall.

I couldn’t stay until the end, but there was one hopeful candidate with clear visions about what needed to be done – protecting clean water, building jobs through sustainable alternative energy initiatives, and supporting workers’ rights. She spoke with passion about hopeful possibilities and highlighted a successful track record for building necessary relationships to overcome political divides. Fortunately, two-thirds of the conference delegates voted to endorse her as the party candidate for state senate, the necessary threshold for approval of her candidacy.

I understand why many people are unhappy with politics and politicians. Why shouldn’t they be? I just wish more people knew at least a little more about US and global history before voting! And a little bit more about the dire situations the world is facing on every level right now from sources other than mainstream or social media. Maybe then people would be able to stand with others who stand for something positive, hopeful, and worthwhile. Until then, I fear we’ll continue going in circles as the world falls apart around us, unable to collectively act on issues that will affect generations yet to come.

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car

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I have noticed that community meetings are not really designed as listening sessions or opportunities to create a collective sense of dignity and belonging. Yet the choices are clear. One is the world we have now, where people are programmed to continue in a perpetual winner-take-all tug-of-war to impose their ideologies on others in two party systems that pit the 99 percent against each other for petty reasons. The other is one where the 99 percent work together to build a world where life, love, and laughter matter more than power, money, and things. Maybe then we could finally set a course forward toward a kinder, more peaceful world and steer our collective journey in the same direction…

For the Birds …

on this cold April morning

birdsong fills the air

instead of bringing joy this year

it seems to signal despair

a warning of dire times ahead

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birds april 14 2022 3

9:24 AM, April 14, 2022

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birds appear to know something we don’t

trying desperately to tell us before it’s too late

flocking to places that they hope they’ll be safe

to fly free, find a sanctuary, food, and a mate

lives threatened by the cost of hubris and greed

by humans who think they can improve nature

by tinkering with seed

I wonder as I listen to birdsong and cries

if the world of the future will grow silent

and dreary with beauty’s demise

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3:47 PM, April 14, 2022

“Amid outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center is urging individuals to help mitigate its spread by taking down their bird feeders and other apparatus that birds use to congregate.” Source: Kare11.com

2022 HPAI Background

“The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed several findings of the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild waterfowl in the Atlantic flyways in January 2022. On February 8, 2022 APHIS confirmed H5N1 HPAI in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana. Since then it has been confirmed in multiple states and flock types. The USDA updates the latest HPAI detections on its website.

“The first cases of H5N1 in Minnesota were confirmed on March 25, 2022.

“The virus has not caused human illness. According to the CDC, Recent Bird Flu Infections in U.S. Wild Birds and Poultry Pose a Low Risk to the Public.

bird flu area spring 2022

Edited Screenshot to show Duluth in relation to HPAI outbreak areas – Source

Reflections about Writing and Teaching – April 12, 2022

Recently, it’s been difficult for me to post what I write or visit others’ blogs. And I’ve been reflecting about why that might be. I remember how I answered the question “Why do I write?” in a free course I took on WordPress years ago, Blogging 101. “I write because Mickey can’t.

Mickey was confined to a life in a nursing home. A work accident had left him paralyzed and struggling to frame his thoughts in words. One had to slow down and listen carefully to make sense of his new, unfamiliar language. Too few nursing home staff had the time, interest, and/or skill to do so. As a mother with a young daughter to care for, I worked the “graveyard shift.” I had time to learn Mickey’s language and decipher what he needed. Respect. Soft hands. Kindness. Presence. And laughter.

I still write because Mickey can’t. But now I realize I write and teach for the sake of others who can’t speak, either. The earth, the trees, the lakes, and the rivers who give us life but are not honored for doing so. The plants and animals that feed us. The birds, butterflies and bees that give us beauty. What I write is shared for free with anyone who happens to read or listen.

The small salary I make when teaching comes from students who often assume debts they may have to carry for decades, so I try to make what I share worth the cost. With the trend of declining enrollments, it’s uncertain if this signals the end of my teaching career. But writing and teaching have never been about money, power, or fame. Sharing is just celebrating life.

April 12 2022 reflections 1

Building and planting new gardens – June 24, 2013

These days, words and teaching are not enough for me. The things that I feel are important to say may be lost in a cacophony of voices competing for attention. I care about the world my daughter, grandchildren, students, and the generations yet to come will inherit. I find myself on steep learning curves to explore more direct ways to share. I’ve agreed to serve as a delegate for the political party that I find to be less toxic to select a candidate the party should support for the state senate. As a community and state, we’re facing uphill battles on environmental and social justice issues that need to be championed by the most capable, tenacious, ethical servants of the people.

There are no guarantees of success for those who are willing to courageously propose alternatives that reverse the corporate exploitation of people and the environment, but it’s crucial that those who want to wield power, or those who are forced to by default, honestly represent the best interests of people and the environment who are not able to speak for themselves. But politics are always a gamble. There’s no way to predict how people will react to wielding power or how effective they will be when dealing with others who have conflicting views.

That means the state of the world is also up to each of us, too. I believe we have responsibility to do what we can to learn and act in ethical, well-informed ways. That belief inspired me to volunteer for several community-based initiatives to help explore what’s happening from many different vantage points. I’ll explain these initiatives in a moment because others might find these various opportunities intriguing as well.

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Changing landscape after the willow was damaged in a winter storm – June 4, 2018

First, though, I feel it’s important to mention that I have been fascinated by the “natural” environment all of my life. As a little girl, I preferred the woods, stream, and pond near my house more than the company of children my own age. It was a place of wonder to explore and a sanctuary away from the noise and busyness of my home and neighborhood. As a teen, I preferred the company of elders and spending time on the Allegheny River that flowed in front of my family’s musty summer cottage. When I attended college, my goal was to study ecology, a subject that wasn’t offered yet. Instead, my world was expanded through the discovery of other cultures and literature I had not read before. Ultimately, I ended up working in jobs that applied ecological frameworks to human society and institutions.

Yet, I just passed the age marker that signals the importance of doing what I love the most while I still can – learning new things about the wonders of life and sharing them with anyone who will listen. When my mother was this age, 75, she was mid-stage in the painstakingly gradual loss of choices due to Alzheimer’s disease. As her legal guardian for fourteen years, I witnessed her heartrending transition from a gifted nurse to someone who could no longer speak a clear sentence, moving her from her lakefront home to congregate elder housing and then to round-the-clock assisted care.

So I decided to do something I love. Keep learning. There are so many things I don’t know. Recent patterns of drought and deluge have compacted the soil in my yard. I tested some soil last year because the blueberry bushes were struggling, and I found that the soil was extremely alkaline despite the surrounding pine trees. Last year’s extended drought meant frequent watering, so I’ll need to test the tap water, too, to see if the ph-balance of the water affected the reading. I plan to continue exploring how to achieve a healthy acid/alkaline balance and improve the overall health of the soil using natural, doable, affordable methods.

April 12 2022 reflections 3

Gardens recovering after some rain – July 29, 2021

I also want to gain knowledge and skills that will help with significant climate transitions that will become more likely given ongoing environmental destruction, over-consumption by wealthier people and nations, and changing weather patterns. I’ve taken a few first steps.

I joined the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, CoCoRaHS for short, and took the obligatory “skywarn” training from the National Weather Service. I have become a “trained weather spotter.” The required “WeatherYourWay” rain gauge for CoCoRaHS volunteers to use for measuring precipitation is finally out of its box, waiting to be set up. Perhaps my grandson can help me put in the recommended 4” X 4” post to mount it once the ground here thaws.

Here’s a little bit more about CoCoRaHS:

“… CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow).   By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. We are now in all fifty states.”

I also joined “scistarter,” an organization for volunteers who want to learn more and participate in “citizen science.”  There are many intriguing topics to study. Here’s a link to explore possible projects: https://blog.scistarter.org/featured-projects/2022/03/five-spring-tacular-projects-to-get-you-outside-this-season/

The topic I chose to focus on as a beginning is “iseechange.org.” Following is the brief overview from the website:

GOAL                         Our climate is changing — so are we.

TASK                          Share your experiences and collect data to help our communities.

WHERE                      Global, anywhere on the planet.

DESCRIPTION

What you see in your backyard, neighborhood, and city is important to our understanding of how climate change and weather affect our communities. Your observations and block-by-block insights can help cities, engineers and local organizations advocate for and create solutions to climate challenges.

We welcome and host observations from people in 118 countries around the world and counting. We are also currently working with partners in select cities on specialized investigations.

If you or your community has a question or hypothesis about how climate is changing your area, you can also use your ISeeChange account to collect data and answer those questions.

The only thing certain about the future is that changes will continue. It seems to me that the only way to prepare for change is to learn what we can now and share what we learn with others. I am grateful for the chance to do so and for all I learn from you when I have time to visit your blogs. Sending my best wishes to all.

Note:

Here’s a list of the links embedded above in case you are interested in learning more:

https://www.cocorahs.org/

https://scistarter.org/

https://www.iseechange.org/about

Reflections about Books and Laughter

In these days of banning books, I have been contemplating how to deal with out-of-date textbooks that nobody wants. Not because they’re risqué, they’re just out-of-date. It makes me wonder what to do with the manuscript I began writing in 2015. The first draft is still waiting to be edited when I can find time. In the meantime, I often wonder whether the book would be of any use to others in the times ahead because it may be too academic. And if it does have potential to be useful, it’s doubtful to survive censorship because it’s as historically accurate as I can make it and critical of colonial domination.

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But there is still the question of those textbooks that have grown obsolete. In a continuing process of decluttering, textbooks are next on my list. It seems that only the pages can be recycled, but the covers and bindings must go. So, the process of unbinding has begun. It’s not as easy as one would think. Here’s a photo of my first attempt.

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It’s the fourth edition of Social forces and aging by Robert C. Atchley (1985). (In case anyone is eager to read it, it was published by Wadsworth, Inc.). I also have the fifth edition of this text in the pile of castaways, but I kept the eighth edition in the bookcase for now, perhaps out of sentimentality (or senility?). I suspect I used it when I taught a course on aging and mental health at my alma mater after graduating with a master’s degree. That’s when I discovered I love working with students of all ages.

I couldn’t resist a final peek at the content of the book in the tedious deconstruction process. I happened to notice the following at the beginning of Chapter 15: Deviance and Social Control…

All societies use general standards to judge the appropriateness of a given behavior, human condition, or situation. If a departure from conventional customs or practice is seen as merely unusual, we call it “eccentricity.” But if the departure is so great that the behavior or condition would be condemned, then we call it deviance. Deviance is always defined from the point of view of a particular normative structure. In large societies such as ours there are many subgroups and conflicting standards of behavior. The same act can be defined as deviant by one group, as eccentric by another, and as “normal” by yet another. For example, what is seen as deviant in a suburban neighborhood is quite different from what is seen as deviant on skid row.

Norms are by definition ideas about how human behavior ought to be, and it is no surprise that societies set up mechanisms to prevent and control both the incidence and degree of deviance. Social roles, socialization, and the internalization of norms are all important processes in the prevention of deviance. Formal social controls that seek to limit and discourage deviance include laws, rules, regulations, and authority systems. Informal social controls include customs such as ridicule, disapproval, and ostracism. (Atchley, 1985, p. 286)

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While I believe it’s important to know how people viewed things in the past, and what they were programmed to believe, this book has served its purpose and deserves to be repurposed. There is a pile of other texts waiting for their turn. But the topic of this quote stayed with me. I’m currently reading something that speaks to the profundity of cultural differences – I miss the rain in Africa: Peace Corps as a third act: A tale of transformation, by Nancy Daniel Wesson (2021), Modern History Press. I came across a passage about the challenges of communicating across cultures, even between people who believe they speak the same English language. I can’t quote the passage here because it would be out of context, but it brought to mind a passage in a different book that shares “an anecdote from World War II” (Estés, 1992, p. 343).

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Clarissa Pinkola Estés recounts an experience she had when she was twelve, spending a day with extended family. She heard her mother and aunts shrieking with laughter as they sat “sunning themselves” and was curious to know what was so funny. While her mother and aunts later dozed in the sun, Estés picked up the magazine one of her aunts had been reading out loud and discovered the passage quoted below.

General Eisenhower was going to visit his troops in Rwanda. [It might have been Borneo. It might have been General MacArthur. The names meant little to me then.] The governor wanted all native women to stand by the side of the dirt road and cheer and wave to welcome Eisenhower as he drove by in his jeep. The only problem was that the native women never wore any clothes other than a necklace of beads and sometimes a little thong belt.

No, no, that would never do. So the governor called the headman of the tribe and told him the predicament. “No worry,” said the headman. If the governor could provide several dozen skirts and blouses, he would see to it that the women dressed in them for this one-time special event. And these the governor and local missionaries managed to provide.

However, on the day of the great parade, and just minutes before Eisenhower was to drive down the long road in his jeep, it was discovered that while all of the native women dutifully wore the skirts, they did not like the blouses, and had left them at home. So now all the women were lined up and down both sides of the road, skirted but bare-breasted, and with not another stitch on and no underwear at all.

Well the governor had apoplexy when he heard and he angrily summoned the headman, who assured his that the headwoman had conferred with him, and assured him that the women had agreed on a plan to cover their breasts when the general drove by. “Are you sure?” yelled the governor.

“I am very, very sure,” said the headman.

Well, there was no time left to argue and we can only guess at General Eisenhower’s reaction as his jeep came chugging by and woman after bare-breasted woman gracefully lifted up the front of her full skirt and covered her face with it. (Estés, 1992, pp. 343-344)

I have to admit this made me laugh as well. It still does. These days I think we all need more opportunities to laugh. Yet, I know it’s easier to laugh at other’s expense, and harder to look at the humorous side of things we’ve been socialized to accept as “normal.”

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Initially, I give people the benefit of the doubt and trust what they tell me or write is true from their perspective. I’ve learned, though, that’s not always the case. Over time, I’ve become a lot more skeptical, but I wasn’t as an undergraduate student when I first read about a strange tribe in my anthropology class, the Nacirema.

Horace Miner’s (1956) article, “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” helped teach me that lesson and others.

Nacirema culture is characterized by a highly developed market economy which has evolved in a rich natural habitat. While much of people’s time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the fruits of these labors and a considerable portion of the day are spent in ritual activity. The focus of this activity is the human body, the appearance and health of which loom as a dominant concern in the ethos of the people. While such a concern is certainly not unusual, its ceremonial aspects and associated philosophy are unique.

The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. Incarcerated in such a body, man’s only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of the powerful influences of ritual and ceremony. Every household has one or more shrines devoted to this purpose… While each family has at least one such shrine, the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret. The rites are normally only discussed with children, and then only during the period when they are being initiated into these mysteries… (Miner, 1956, p. 503)

In conclusion, mention must be made of certain practices which have their base in native esthetics but which depend on the pervasive aversion to the natural body and its functions. There are ritual fasts to make fat people thin and ceremonial feasts to make thin people fat. Still other rites are used to make women’s breasts larger if they are small, and smaller if they are large. General dissatisfaction with breast shape is symbolized in the fact that the ideal form is virtually outside the range of human variation… (Miner, 1956, p. 506)

Wikipedia says the following about Miner’s work.

“In the paper, Miner describes the Nacirema, a little-known tribe living in North America. The way in which he writes about the curious practices that this group performs distances readers from the fact that the North American group described actually corresponds to modern-day Americans of the mid-1950s.”

(For those who don’t already know this, “Nacirema” is “American” spelled backwards.)

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These two authors, Miner and Estés, have something in common. They deal with topics that are rarely discussed in polite “normative” conversations. (I think Atchley of old might agree with that assessment, although Miner’s article had been published long before Atchley’s text.) Their published works will probably be censored in the coming years because they present views that could easily be classified as deviant by those leading the pack to enforce their seemingly joyless point-of-view. After all, hearty laughter and joy signify freedom from control – and they serve a valuable role as a “medicine for tough times” (Estés, 2992, p. 344).

Estés makes this point quite clearly when she describes the aftereffects of reading about Eisenhower’s welcome.

I lay under the chaise [lounge] stifling my laughter. It was the silliest story I had ever heard. It was a wonderful story, a thrilling story. But intuitively, I also knew it was contraband, so I kept it to myself for years and years. And sometimes in the midst of hard times, during tense times, even before taking tests in college, I would think of the women from Rwanda covering their faces with their skirts, and no doubt laughing into them. And I would laugh and feel centered, strong, and down-to-earth…

When the laughter helps without doing harm, when the laughter lightens, realigns, reorders, reasserts power and strength, this is the laughter that causes health. When the laughter makes people glad they are alive, happy to be here, more conscious of love, heightened with eros, when it lifts sadness and severs them from anger, that is sacred… (pp. 344-345, emphasis mine).

I hope these stories helped lighten the heaviness of these times, at least for a moment…

Here’s a video that may help inspire laughter as well – Loretta LaRoche, “The Joy of Stress”

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Wishing you all much joy and laughter to light the darkness in the days ahead.

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Works cited:

Atchley, R. C. (1985). Social forces and aging (4th ed.). Wadsworth, Inc.

Estés. P. C. (1992). Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild woman archetype. Ballantine Books.

Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58(3), 503-507. (Link to copyright-free download here.)

Wesson, N. D. (2021). I miss the rain in Africa: Peace Corps as a third act: A tale of transformation. Modern History Press.

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Reflections about Teaching – March 7, 2022

ah, the challenge of teaching

during overwhelming times

please let me be here now

and take time

to listen,

observe,

and reflect

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we only have

these precious moments together

two hours every other week

it’s not enough

but it’s what we have

I watch and wonder

how I can help you

rekindle curiosity and learn

when you’re too weary and anxious

to be fully present

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let’s take the first steps together

to unpack a daunting assignment

step by step

take a few minutes to read

the article title and think

what do the authors assume

about the people and issues they studied?

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those few precious words say a lot

about how researchers frame their work

it’s the first step for analyzing anything

and it’s too easy to move on

without taking time to realize

that this is the most important thing

they will have to say

about the assumptions, values, and worldviews

which (perhaps unconsciously)

guided the purpose and design

for the steps and details that follow

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can one judge the quality of a work by its title?

the title, along with the abstract and key words,

offer a snapshot of authors’ views

about people and causes of problems

and clues about the trustworthiness

of their work and interpretations

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do they encourage exploratory solutions

which are respectful and inclusive?

does their work have the potential

to enhance community connections and resilience?

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Mary Oliver 2

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“Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say

‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads”

Mary Oliver

(repeated because images can’t be translated)

 

Reflections – February 9, 2022

A lifetime lived in the liminal space

between those with petty power

and those whom they would oppress

perhaps without conscious awareness

parents

please believe me when I tell you

it’s not an easy place to be

sometimes a clown or trickster

other times deliberately deferential

with a mousy well-tailored demeaner

soft-spoken and mild-mannered

and a focused observant presence

looking for any possibilities

for building common ground

yet unwilling to compromise integrity

even when it means disregarding

threats and demeaning disrespect

silently healing a bruised ego

because that’s not what is important

when others’ wellbeing is at stake

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recognizing that one has many choices –

deep sorrow, self-righteous anger,

or patience and compassion for all involved

over lost opportunities to come together

in the exploration of creative, liberating

possibilities based on reason and grace

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recent events served as a reminder

that my worldview and values

don’t fit well with those of colonial institutions

and those of the gatekeepers and overseers

posted as guards to enforce conformity

often unknowingly – reminding me once again

of the words of Michel Foucault (1979, p. 304).

“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements. This carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observations, has been the greatest support, in modern society, of normalizing power.”

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normalization 3

Drawing by Carol A. Hand (based on an adaptation of N. Andry (1749), Orthopaedrics or the art of preventing and correcting deformities of the body in children, cited in Foucault, 1979, inset # 10 between pp. 169-170).

*

It may well be as Foucault suggests

that only some of us are fortunate enough

to know that we are not completely socialized

and carry the responsibility to teach

by thinking critically and “walking our talk”

*

Work cited:

Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1975)

Reflections about the Art of Researching

Life is full of surprises. If we’re lucky, it takes us to places we never imagined. As a child, I was curious about the world around me, although I don’t ever remember hearing the word “research” until I was in college. When I did, it was often, but not always, in the context of incredibly boring classes that required me to memorize formulas, the assumptions of the Central Limit Theorem, and the differences among various types of variables that are subjected to research studies and analyses (independent, dependent, control, discrete, interval, nominal, ordinal, etc.).

I never saw myself as a teacher then, let alone as a teacher of research. Yet, I have been so at both the graduate and undergraduate levels in colleges and universities periodically for the past 20 years. I realized it could be exciting for me, and sometimes, for students. I think I have gotten better over the years at figuring how to make it both interesting and relevant.

During the past few years, I have had a chance to develop and continue refining a new experiential approach that focused on a crucial issue, the link between access to potable water and community health. The small, diverse cohorts of students I worked with each semester have done exciting work. The cohort last semester was especially notable. Their work has real-life implications for addressing health and crucial environmental issues on a local level.

I’ve tweaked the class a little for the semester that began last Saturday. The even smaller diverse cohort I met with seemed excited to learn, unlike the first cohorts at the beginning of past semesters. Access to potable water has gained increasing attention, highlighting its significance as an issue that is particularly relevant for all of us, and especially for vulnerable populations.

It’s likely, though, that this may be the last time the research course is delivered this way over two semesters. It may well fall victim to the quest for standardization and economic efficiency. Few people think of research as a core foundation for future work, and, from my perspective, for life in general. Like me, their prior experiences in courses on the topic may have been something they merely survived to earn a degree.

But research is important. The word “research,” both a noun and a verb, involves paying attention to the world around us, as well as exploring our own ways of perceiving and making sense of what we see.

research perspective crabtree and miller

“Doing research is, in many ways, like taking a descriptive and explanatory snapshot of empirical reality. For each particular photograph, the investigator must decide what kind of camera to use, what scene on which to focus, through which filter, and with what intent.” (Crabtree & Miller, 1999, p. 3)

My perspective of research and teaching has rarely fit within “mainstream” approaches. That’s not surprising to me. My parents were from very different cultures, although both came from economically disadvantaged roots. They taught me to see the world from two cultural perspectives – Ojibwe and working-class Anglo-American. It inspired me to continue to observe and critically reflect about those different ways of seeing throughout my educational journey and professional career.

What I discovered are profound differences on many levels which directly affect how one approaches education. I learned what feels most comfortable as both a learner and educator. The table below is a simplistic but heuristically helpful way to illustrate those differences.

NCLB Program Contrast to Native American Education

Source: Starnes, 2006, p. 389

These differences point out an indispensable first step when developing any course or curriculum. Ultimately, we first need to answer a central question. What is the purpose of education? Is to mold docile citizens who can memorize and regurgitate answers on fill-in-the-blank tests? Who can perform robot-like jobs without ever questioning authority? Or is education’s purpose encouraging observant presence, curiosity, and critical thinking skills? Providing an understanding of broad historical dynamics and tools that have proven effective for building inclusive, healthy communities? For equipping students with methods for thinking about and exploring creative ways for responding to an array of complex crises we face globally?

Six years ago, my colleagues and I answered that question with the second choice. We began discussing how to implement an alternative – an integrated model of teaching and learning. We created links in content across courses and experimented with collaborative course delivery. The research class was especially challenging.

Students in their junior year had variable levels of the foundational knowledge and skills needed to succeed within one semester. Many had never read a research article or learned how to find scholarly resources, and few had written academic papers. We experimented with a groups’ approach for assignments to reduce the workload. That proved unsuccessful for a number of reasons, so we decided to try a different approach.

We split the course in half and spread it over two semesters. The first semester allows students to learn basic knowledge and skills, and the second provides an opportunity for them to apply what they learned. The course still requires hard work, but it proved to be effective for the majority of students pre-Covid. The COVID transition year (2020) necessitated moving to a remote delivery model that was especially difficult for Native American students. The creation of a new assignment and small group approach that meet via Zoom helped build a supportive network that enabled those who participated to successfully complete the course. Because the new assignment proved so successful, it was integrated into courses for the following years.

CSS SWK 3385 a & b

We were able to fly beneath the radar for years because our site serves a unique population of students. But the current colonial corporate agenda is one of increasingly repressive measures in education (and governance). That agenda places our flexible, experiential approach in the limelight and threatens its survival. Our site, located within a tribal and community college, is not like the other campus satellite sites which serve different populations. There seems to be little acknowledgement or interest in considering the importance of culture and context in curriculum delivery, especially by national higher learning accrediting bodies and those who don’t have the will, skill, and/or courage to risk challenging them.

I honestly believe that each voice from the margins matters. This post is the beginning of the journey which may signal the end of my formal teaching career. It is my belief that children are born curious.

curiosity 1

My grandson at age 2

Some continue to hold on to a sense of wonder, curiosity, connection, and gratitude in their adolescence.

curiosity 2

My granddaughter at age 14

The approaches we use in education can help support those gifts or extinguish them. Even in college years, my experiences have shown me that the remnants of curiosity and wonder remain and can be rekindled. But it takes intention, patience, flexibility, and dedicated work to do so in ways that are interesting, relevant, liberatory, and effective.

I hope the decision the college makes regarding the future of education takes into consideration how important these gifts are for our collective survival and well-being on the “pale blue dot” planet we all share (Sagan, 1994/2014).

References:

Benjamin F. Crabtree and William L Miller (eds.). Doing Qualitative Research., (2nd ed.). Sage Publications, Inc., 1999.

Carl Sagan (1994/2014). Pale blue dot. Random House. /Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot OFFICIAL, aired on Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey. Cosmos Studios, Inc.

Bobby Ann Starnes (2006). What we don’t know can hurt them: White teachers, Indian children. Phi Delta Kappan, 87 (5), 384-392.

Revisiting “Communities of Relatedness”

At the beginning of each new semester, I contemplate what more can be done to help students make sense of complex courses. This year has been no different.

*

december 2021

A view from my side of the city – December 14, 2021

*

For more than a decade, I taught courses about social welfare policy for undergraduate and graduate students. It was an arduous task, but often rewarding in unanticipated ways. Nonetheless, it took discipline to stay on top of often disheartening news about legislators’ continuing reliance on unexamined assumptions about economic inequality based on 16th and 17th century views of poverty in Great Britain –  The Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601.

elizabethan poor laws

The U.S inherited the disparaging views of people who were poor. Even though there were distinctions between the “worthy” and “unworthy poor,” poverty was viewed as an individual problem rather than the result of structural inequalities that benefited landed aristocracy at the expense of those who served them. People who were unhoused and unemployed due to rapidly shifting social institutions and technologies were forced to migrate in search of work. When they arrived in cities, destitute and desperate, reduced to begging for alms, they were viewed as a threat and nuisance. Their circumstances were attributed to their laziness and immorality. Their “pauperism” was seen as a cultural class deficiency that was passed down through the generations. Only strict punitive laws and interventions would “save” them and their children.

We can see the same views playing out at all governmental levels in the U.S. today as legislatures argue who is deserving of “welfare” assistance. They willingly bail out banks and corporations while ignoring the situation for so many individuals and families who are unable to afford housing, food, and health care. It is important for students to know this history in order to critically analyze existing policies and work toward more socially just policies in the future. True, analyzing policy is not the most exciting work initially, but it can be rewarding to build partnerships to end and prevent unnecessary suffering.

I returned to an older post for ideas on how to help and inspire students and decided to share the post again. Sadly, the message is still relevant today.

***

December landscape 16 2017

Communities of Relatedness

Sitting on my back doorstep as I greeted yet another snowy morning, I was reflecting on my most recent neighborhood. West Duluth, the working class part of town. The side of town where the industries – manufacturing and paper mills – send plumes of putrid exhaust into the air. Some days the winds blow it eastward toward the lake, away from the children in my neighborhood who are walking to school or out on the school playgrounds. On the days the winds blow westward, I know it’s unwise to take more than very shallow breaths. Mine is the side of town where only those with few resources are able to find housing, the side of town where parents without choices send their children to schools with fewer resources and amenities. Even if I had more financial resources, I suspect I would still choose to live here, even though people in my neighborhood are not especially sociable – they’re too busy just trying to survive.

Perhaps it’s foolish of me, but I prefer to live in an old house that needs lots of work, with an overgrown yard that needs tending, on the side of town with the most diversity. So many people in the world live with far less. And it is the things that need transformation that attract my attention and inspire my creativity. I suspect it’s because of a different cultural frame. I don’t feel a sense of allegiance to the symbols of “nationhood” – fictive notions of fraternity – of us against the world. Instead, I realized this morning that I feel a sense of responsibility to people and my environment, not just Ojibwe people, but all my relations.

I have had the privilege of working for a state developing policies and programs for elders, and then working at the community level implementing and evaluating programs and policies for families and children. What I observed was a fundamental disconnect between policies developed by experts from a dominant cultural paradigm, what I refer to as “collectivities of strangers” like the residents of Duluth, and communities that were based on the foundation of enduring relationships. Raising the awareness of policy developers and academics to the importance of this distinction is not an easy task. So I have shifted my efforts to try to raise the awareness of students who will hopefully become the policy and program developers of the future.

From an indigenous perspective, the centrality of relationships is apparent. Tribal communities are characterized by centuries of enduring close family and community relationships among members and their natural environment, and members anticipate the continuation of these bonds for generations yet to come. The legalistic, impersonal approach used by the dominant Euro-American social welfare and judicial systems can best be characterized as “a collectivity of strangers,” designed to keep strangers from killing each other. As Jared Diamond (1997, Guns, Germs, and Steel) argues,

… the organization of human government tends to change … in societies with more than a few hundred members … [as] the difficult issue of conflict resolution between strangers becomes increasingly acute in larger groups…. Those ties of relationship binding all tribal members make police, laws, and other conflict-resolving institutions of larger societies unnecessary, since any two villagers getting into an argument will share many kin, who will apply pressure on them to keep it from becoming violent. (p. 171)

What this means for the sense of responsibility members feel toward each other from these contrasting cultural paradigms can be simplistically illustrated.

contrast collective vs strangers

What these distinctions mean for children can be described simplistically as well.

contrast collective vs strangers 3

contrast collective vs strangers 2

As I contemplate these contrasts this morning, I need to ground the philosophical questions in my present lived experience. Fortunately for my neighborhood, the gentle wind is blowing in from the west this morning, leaving the air clean and sweet. It was safe to take deep breaths and contemplate the possibility of building a sense of community that recognizes the importance of protecting the health of all our relations. In doing so, however, I am mindful that my privilege of breathing clean air this morning doesn’t mean the world is fair. The factories that provide jobs for people in my neighborhood are still sending forth poison plumes. It is others who are downwind who must breathe shallowly today. They are both strangers to me in one sense, and relatives in another. The challenge I contemplate is how to reach out to them so we can begin to work collectively to create a community that is healthy every day for all of our relations.

***

Work Cited

Jared Diamond (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. W.W. Norton & Company.

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